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Title: The True Legend of St. Dunstan and the Devil

Author: Edward G. Flight

Release Date: November 8, 2004  [eBook #13978]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


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Showing How the Horse-Shoe Came to Be a Charm against Witchcraft



With Illustrations by George Cruikshank

Engraved by John Thompson

Third Edition






The success of the first edition of this little work, compels its author
to say a few words on the issue of a second. "Expressive silence" would
now be in him the excessive impudence of not acknowledging, as he
respectfully does acknowledge, that success to be greatly ascribable to
the eminent artists who have drawn and engraved the illustrations.

"A man's worst wish for his enemy is that he might write a book," is a
generally-received notion, of whose accuracy it is hoped there is no
impertinence in suggesting a doubt. To reflect on having contributed,
however slightly, to the innocent amusement of others, without giving
pain to any, is alone an enjoyment well worth writing for. But when even
so unpretending a trifle as this is, can, besides, bring around its
obscure author fresh and valuable friendships, the hackneyed exclamation
would appear more intelligible if rendered thus: "Oh, that my _friend_
would write a book!"

In former days, possibly, things may have been very different from what
they now are. Haply, the literary highway may, heretofore, have been not
particularly clean, choked with rubbish, badly drained, ill lighted, not
always well paved even with good intentions, and beset with dangerous
characters, bilious-looking Thugs, prowling about, ready to pounce upon,
hocus, strangle, and pillage any new arrival. But all that is now
changed. Now, the path of literature is all velvet and roses. The race
of quacks and impostors has become as extinct, as are the saurian and
the dodo; and every honest flourisher of the pen, instead of being
tarred and feathered, is hailed as a welcome addition to "the united
happy family"--of letters.

Much of this agreeable change is owing to the improvement of the
literary police, which is become a respectable, sober, well-conducted
body of men, who seldom go on duty as critics, without a horse-shoe.
Much is owing to the propagation of the doctrines of the Peace Society,
even among that species of the _genus irritabile_, authors
themselves, who have at last learned

  "That brother should not war with brother,
  And worry and devour each other;
  But sing and shine by sweet consent,
  Till life's poor transient night is spent."

Chiefly, however, is the happy change attributable to the discriminating
and impartial judgment of the reading public of this golden Victorian
era. In the present day, it may be considered a general rule, that
no picture is admired, no book pronounced readable, no magazine or
newspaper circulated, unless in each case it develope intrinsic merit.
The mere name of the artist, or author, or editor, has not the slightest
weight with our present intelligent, discriminating community, who are
never enslaved, or misled, by whim, caprice, or fashion. It has been
said, but it seems too monstrous for belief, that, formerly, persons
were actually to be found so extremely indolent, or stupid, or timid, as
never to think for themselves; but who followed with the crowd, like a
swarm of bees, to the brazen tinkle of a mere name! Happily, the minds
of the present age are far too active, enlightened, independent, and
fearless, for degradation so unworthy. In our day, the professed wit
hopes not for the homage of a laugh, on his "only asking for the
mustard;" the artist no longer trusts to his signature on the canvas for
its being admired; no amount of previous authorship-celebrity preserves
a book from the trunkmaker; and the newspaper-writer cannot expect an
extensive sale, unless his leaders equal, at least, the frothy head of
"Barclay's porter," or possess the Attic salt of "Fortnum and Mason's
hams." At the same time, the proudest notable in literature can now no
longer swamp, or thrust aside, his obscurer peers; nor is the humblest
votive offering at the shrine of intellect, in danger, as formerly, from
the hoofs of spurious priests, alike insensible to receive, and impotent
to reflect or minister, light or warmth, from the sacred fire they
pretend to cherish. In short, such is the pleasant change which has come
over literary affairs, that, however apposite in past times, there is
not, in the present, any fitness in the exclamation, "Oh, that mine
enemy would write a book!"

With reference to the observation, made by more than one correspondent,
that the horse-shoe has not always proved an infallible charm against
the devil, the author, deferentially, begs to hazard an opinion that, in
every one of such cases, the supposed failure may have resulted from an
adoption of something else than the real shoe, as a protection. Once
upon a time, a witness very sensibly accounted for the plaintiff's horse
having broken down. "'Twasn't the hoss's fault," said he; "his plates
was wore so thin and so smooth, that, if he'd been Hal Brook[1] his
self, he couldn't help slipping."

[Footnote 1: Doubtless he meant Al Borak, the name of Mahomet's night

"You mean," said the judge, "that the horse, instead of shoes, had
merely slippers?"

Peradventure, the alleged failures may be similarly accounted for;
the party, in each case, having perhaps nailed up, not a shoe, but a
slipper, the learned distinction respecting which was thus judicially
recognised. The deed which the devil signed, must, like a penal statute,
be construed strictly. It says nothing of a slipper; and it has been
held by all our greatest lawyers, from Popham and Siderfin, down to
Ambler and Walker, that a slipper is not a shoe.

Another solution suggests itself. Possibly the horse-shoe, even if
genuine, was not affixed until after the Wicked One had already got
possession. In that case, not only would the charm be inefficacious
to eject him, but would actually operate as a bar to his quitting the
premises; for that eminent jurisconsult, Mephistopheles himself, has
distinctly laid it down as "a law binding on devils, that they must go
out the same way they stole in." Nailing up a shoe to keep the devil
out, after he has once got in, is indeed too late; and is something like
the literary pastime of the "Englishman," who kept on showing cause
against the Frenchman's rule, long after the latter had, on the motion
of his soldiers, already made it absolute with costs.

There is one other circumstance the author begs to refer to, from a
desire to dispel any uneasiness about our relations with the Yezidi
government. The late distinguished under-secretary for foreign affairs,
as every one knows, not regarding as _infra dig._ certain great, winged,
human-headed bulls,[2] that would have astonished Mr. Edgeworth, not
less than they puzzle all Smithfield, and the rest of the learned "whose
speech is of oxen," has imported those extraordinary grand-junction
specimens, which, with their countryfolk, the Yezidis, Dr. Layard has
particularly described in his book on Nineveh. When speaking of the
Yezidis, he has observed, "The name of the evil spirit is, however,
never mentioned; and any allusion to it by others so vexes and irritates
them, that it is said they have put to death persons who have wantonly
outraged their feelings by its use. So far is their dread of offending
the evil principle carried, that they carefully avoid every expression
which may resemble in sound the name of Satan, or the Arabic word for
'accursed.' Thus, in speaking of a river, they will not say _Shat_,
because it is too nearly connected with the first syllable in _Sheitan_,
the devil; but substitute _Nahr_. Nor, for the same reason, will they
utter the word _Keitan_, thread or fringe. _Naal_, a horse-shoe, and
_naal-band_, a farrier, are forbidden words; because they approach to
_laan_, a curse, and _m[=a]loun_, accursed."--_Layard_, vol. i. p. 297.

[Footnote 2: A sister countryman,--a bull is excusable when discoursing
of bulls,--on seeing the monster at the Museum, exclaimed, "Faith! the
great Dan himself couldn't repale _that_ union, at all, at all,
_after_ 'twas once put together." Some suppose this bull to be
typical of a foreign John Bull, the head representing the Crown, the
fine feathers the Lords, and the rest the Commons.]

Notwithstanding all this, the author has the pleasant satisfaction of
most respectfully assuring his readers, on the authority of the last
Yezidi _Moniteur_, that the amicable relations of this country with
the Yezidi government are not in the slightest danger of being disturbed
by this little book; and that John Bull is, at present, in no jeopardy
of being swallowed up by those monstrous distant cousins of his, of whom
Mr. Layard has brought home the above-mentioned speaking likenesses.

1, Adam Street, Adelphi.





"And it is for trouth reported, that where this signe dothe appere,
there the Evill Spirite entreth not."--SERMON ON WITCHES.

"Your wife's a witch, man; you should nail a horse-shoe on your



  In days of yore, when saints were plenty,
  (For each one now, you'd then find twenty,)
      In Glaston's fruitful vale,
  Saint Dunstan had his dwelling snug,
  Warm as that inmate of a rug,
      Named in no polished tale.

  The holy man, when not employed
  At prayers or meals, to work enjoyed
      With anvil, forge, and sledge.
  These he provided in his cell,
  With saintly furniture as well;
      So chroniclers allege.

  The peaceful mattock, ploughshare, spade,
  Sickle, and pruning-hook he made,
      Eschewing martial labours.
  Thus bees will rather honey bring,
  Than hurtfully employ their sting
      In warfare for their neighbours.

  A cheerful saint too, oft would he
  Mellow old Time with minstrelsy,--
      But such as gave no scandal;
  Than his was never harp more famed;
  For Dunstan was the blacksmith named
      Harmonious by Handel.

  And when with tuneful voice he sang,
  His well-strung harp's melodious twang
      Accompaniment lending;
  So sweetly wedded were the twain,
  The chords flowed mingled with the strain,
      Mellifluently blending.

  Now 'tis well known mankind's great foe
  Oft lurks and wanders to and fro,
      In bailiwicks and shires;
  Scattering broad-cast his mischief-seeds,
  Planting the germs of wicked deeds,
  Choking fair shoots with poisonous weeds,
      Till goodness nigh expires.

  Well, so it chanced, this tramping vagrant,
  Intent on villanies most flagrant,
      Ranged by Saint Dunstan's gate;
  And hearing music so delicious,
  Like hooded snake, his spleen malicious
      Swelled up with envious hate.


  Thought Nick, I'll make his harp a fool;
  I'll push him from his music-stool;
      Then, skulking near the saint,
  The vilest jars Nick loudly sounded,
  Of brayings, neighings, screams compounded;
  How the musician's ears were wounded,
      Not Hogarth e'en could paint.

  The devil fancied it rare fun.
  "Well! don't you like my second, Dun?
  Two parts sound better sure than one,"
      Said he, with queer grimace:
  "Come sing away, indeed you shall;
  Strike up a spicy madrigal,
      And hear me do the bass."

  This chaffing Dunstan could not brook,
  His clenched fist, his crabbed look
      Betrayed his irritation.
  'Twas nuts for Nick's derisive jaw,
  Who fairly chuckled when he saw
      The placid saint's vexation.

  "_Au revoir_, friend, adieu till noon;
  Just now you are rather out of tune,
      Your visage is too sharp;
  Your ear perhaps a trifle flat:
  When I return, 'All round my hat'
      We'll have upon the harp."

  A tale, I know, has gone about,
  That Dunstan twinged him by the snout
      With pincers hotly glowing;
  Levying, by _fieri facias_ tweak,
  A diabolic screech and squeak,
      No tender mercy showing.

  But antiquarians the most curious
  Reject that vulgar tale as spurious;
      His reverence, say they,
  Instead of giving nose a pull,
  Resolved on vengeance just and full
      Upon some future day.

  Dunstan the saying called to mind,
  "The devil through his paw behind
  Alone shall penal torture find
      From iron, lead, or steel."
  Achilles thus had been eternal,
  Thanks to his baptism infernal,
      But for his mortal heel.

  And so the saint, by wisdom guided,
  To fix old Clootie's hoof decided
      With horse-shoe of real metal,
  And iron nails quite unmistakable;
  For Dunstan, now become implacable,
      Resolved Nick's hash to settle.

  Satan, of this without forewarning,
  Worse luck for him! the following morning,
      With simper sauntered in;
  Squinted at what the saint was doing,
  But never smoked the mischief brewing,
  Putting his foot in't; soon the shoeing
      Did holy smith begin.

  Oh! 'twas worth coin to see him seize
  That ugly leg, and 'twixt his knees
      Firmly the pastern grasp.
  The shoe he tried on, burning hot,
  His tools all handy he had got,
      Hammer, and nails, and rasp.

  A startled stare the devil lent,
  Much wondering what St. Dunstan meant
      This preluding to follow.
  But the first nail from hammer's stroke
  Full soon Nick's silent wonder broke,
  For his shrill scream might then have woke
      The sleepiest of Sleepy Hollow.

  And distant Echo heard the sound
  Vexing the hills for leagues around,
      But answer would not render.
  She may not thus her lips profane:
  So Shadow, fearful of a stain,
      Avoids the black offender.

  The saint no pity had on Nick,
  But drove long nails right through the quick;
      Louder shrieked he, and faster.
  Dunstan cared not; his bitter grin,
  Without mistake, showed Father Sin
      He had found a ruthless master.

  And having driven, clenched, and filed,
  The saint reviewed his work, and smiled
      With cruel satisfaction;
  And jeering said, "Pray, ere you go,
  Dance me the _pas seul_ named 'Jim Crow,'
      With your most graceful action."

  To tell how Horny yelled and cried,
  And all the artful tricks he tried,
      To ease his tribulations,
  Would more than fill a bigger book
  Than ever author undertook,
      Since the Book of Lamentations.

  His tail's short, quick, convulsive coils
  Told of more pain than all Job's boils,
  When Satan brought, with subtle toils,
      Job's patience to the scratch.
  For sympathetic tortures spread
  From hoof to tail, from tail to head:
      All did the anguish catch.


  And yet, though seemed this sharp correction
  Stereotyped in Satan's recollection,
      As in his smarting hocks;
  Not until he the following deed
  Had signed and sealed, St. Dunstan freed
      The vagabond from stocks.

    TO ALL good folk in Christendom to whom this instrument
    shall come the Devil sendeth greeting: KNOW YE that for
    himself and heirs said Devil covenants and declares, that never
    at morn or evening prayers at chapel church or meeting, never
    where concords of sweet sound sacred or social flow around or
    harmony is woo'd, nor where the Horse-Shoe meets his sight on
    land or sea by day or night on lowly sill or lofty pinnacle on
    bowsprit helm mast boom or binnacle, said Devil will intrude.

  The horse-shoe now saves keel, and roof,
  From visits of this rover's hoof,
      The emblem seen preventing.
  He recks the bond, but more the pain,
  The nails went so against the grain,
      The rasp was so tormenting.

  He will not through Gran[=a]da march,
  For there he knows the horse-shoe arch
      At every gate attends him.
  Nor partridges can he digest,
  Since the dire horse-shoe on the breast
      Most grievously offends him.

  The name of Smith he cannot bear;
  Smith Payne he'll curse, and foully swear
      At Smith of Pennsylvania,
  With looks so wild about the face;
  Monro called in, pronounced the case
      Clear antismithymania;

  And duly certified that Nick
  Should be confined as lunatic,
      Fit subject for commission.
  But who the deuce would like to be
  The devil's person's committee?
      So kindred won't petition.

  Now, since the wicked fiend's at large,
  Skippers, and housekeepers, I charge
      You all to heed my warning.
  Over your threshold, on your mast,
  Be sure the horse-shoe's well nailed fast,
      Protecting and adorning.

[Illustration: "O, et praesidium, et dulce decus."--HOR Lib. i. Ode i.]

  Here note, if humourists by trade
  On waistcoat had the shoe displayed,
  Lampoon's sour spirit might be laid,
      And cease its spiteful railing.
  Whether the humour chanced to be
  Joke, pun, quaint ballad, repartee,
  Slang, or bad spelling, we should see
      Good humour still prevailing.

  And oh! if Equity, as well
  As Nisi Prius, would not sell
      _Reason's perfection_ ever
  To wrangling suitors _sans_ horse-shoe,
  Lawyers would soon have nought to do,
  Their subtle efforts ceasing too,
      Reason from right to sever.

  While Meux the symbol wears, _tant mieux_,
  Repelling sinful aid to brew
      His liquid strains XX;
  Still, I advise, strong drinks beware,
  No horse-shoe thwarts the devil there,
      Or demon-mischief checks.

  And let me rede you, Mr. Barry,
  Not all your arms of John, Dick, Harry,
      Plantagenet, or Tudor;
  Nor your projections, or your niches,
  Affluent of crowns and sculptile riches,
      Will scare the foul intruder.

  He'll care not for your harp a whistle,
  Nor lion, horse, rose, shamrock, thistle,
      Horn'd head, or _Honi soit_;
  Nor puppy-griffs, though doubtless meant
  Young senators to represent,
      Like Samson, armed with jaw.

  Only consult your sober senses,
  And ponder well the consequences,
      If in some moment evil,
  The old sinner should take Speaker's chair,
  Make Black Rod fetch the nobles there,
      And with them play the devil!

  Then do not fail, great architect,
  Assembled wisdom to protect
      From Satan's visitation.
  With horse-shoe fortify each gate,
  Each lion's paw; and then the State
      Is safe from ruination.




The courteous reader's indulgence will, it is hoped, extend to a waiver
of all proofs and vouchers in demonstration of the authenticity of this
tale, which is "simply told as it was told to me." Any one who can show
that it is not the true tale, will greatly oblige, if he can and will a
tale unfold, that _is_ the true one. If this is not the true story
and history of the horse-shoe's charm against the wicked one, what
_is_? That's the question.

There's nothing like candour; and so it is here candidly and ingenuously
confessed that the original deed mentioned in the poem, has hitherto
eluded the most diligent searches and researches. As yet, it cannot be
found, notwithstanding all the patient, zealous, and persevering efforts
of learned men, erudite antiquarians, law and equity chiffonniers, who
have poked and pored, in, through, over, and among, heaps, bundles,
and collections, of old papers, vellums, parchments, deeds, muniments,
documents, testaments, instruments, ingrossments, records, writings,
indentures, deed polls, escrows, books, bills, rolls, charters,
chirographs, and exemplifications, in old English, German text, black
letter, red letter, round-hand, court-hand, Norman French, dog Latin,
and law gibberish, occupying all sorts of old boxes, old bookcases, old
chests, old cupboards, old desks, old drawers, old presses, and old
shelves, belonging to the Dunstan branch of the old Smith family. At
one moment, during the searches, it is true, hopes were excited on the
perception of a faint brimstone odour issuing from an antiquated iron
box found among some rubbish; but instead of any vellum or parchment,
there were only the unused remains of some bundles of veteran matches,
with their tinder-box accomplice, which had been thrown aside and
forgotten, ever since the time when the functions of those old hardened
incendiaries, flint and steel, were extinguished by the lucifers.
All further search, it is feared, will be in vain; and the deed is now
believed to be as irrecoverably lost, as the musty muster-roll of Battle

A legal friend has volunteered an opinion, that certain supposed defects
in the alleged deed evince its spuriousness, and even if genuine, its
inefficiency. His words are, "The absence of all legal consideration,
that is to say, valuable consideration, such as money, or money's worth;
or good consideration, such as natural love and affection, would render
the deed void, or voidable, as a mere _nudum pactum_. [See
_Plowden_.] Moreover, an objection arises from there being no
_Anno Domini_, [_Year Book, Temp. Ric. III._] and no _Anno Regni_,
[_Croke Eliz._] and no condition _in poenam_. [_Lib. Ass._] Now,
if the original deed had been thus defective, the covenanting party
thereto is too good a lawyer, not to have set it aside."

To these learned subtleties it may be answered, that the deed was
evidently intended, not so much as an instrument effectively binding
"the covenanting party," as a record whereby to justify a renewal
of punishment, in case of contravention of any of the articles of
treaty. It would have been informal to make mention of money as the
consideration, it being patent that this "covenanting party" considers
it of no value at all. For however dearly all "good folk in Christendom"
may estimate and hug the precious bane, as the most valuable
consideration on earth, he, old sinner that he is, wickedly disparages
it, as being mere filthy lucre, only useful horticulturally, to manure
his hot-beds of iniquity. With regard to the consideration of natural
love and affection, it is humbly submitted that the facts are at
variance with such a suggestion.

Another friend, not of the legal, but the equestrian order, has
tendered, according to his ideas, an explanation of the especial
protecting virtue of the horseshoe. His notions are given as follows,
_ipsissimis verbis_. "There is not in the whole world, a nobler
animal than that splendid fellow, the horse. He is the embodiment of all
that is magnificent, possessing strength, swiftness, courage, sagacity,
and gracefulness. He never drinks more than he needs, or says more
than he ought. If he were an opposition M.P.--and a horse was once a
consul--his speech against Government bills, would be only a dignified
neigh. Base and unworthy measures he disdains.

  "Who ever knew this honest brute
  At law his neighbour prosecute;
  Bring action for assault and battery,
  Or friend beguile with lies and flattery?

"His proud step is on all fours with his love of a fair field and no
favour. The grandeur of his nature is such, that the idea of a beggar
on horseback is proverbially the most revolting of all inequitable
absurdities and incongruities in human economy; while, on the other
hand, as was once well remarked by a distinguished lecturer, this superb
animal stamped his very name itself on that for which our loftiest
princes and nobles, before the present degenerate age of iron, were
emulous of distinguishing themselves. In proportion as they developed
unblemished honour, with undaunted bravery, graceful bearing, and
magnanimous generosity, were they deemed worthy to rank among
Christendom's bright chivalry.

"The horse-shoe was, no doubt, regarded as typical of the noble
qualities of its wearer. These being so hateful to the ugly, sly,
intriguing, slandering, malevolent, ill-conditioned, pettifogging,
pitiful arch-enemy, it might well be supposed that the mere apparition
of that type would scare him away. To this supposition is ascribable the
adoption of the horse-shoe, as an infallible charm against the visits of
old Iniquity."

But mere "supposition" is no answer to the question above propounded.

       *       *       *       *       *

An acknowledgment is due, and is hereby offered, to the unknown
correspondent, who has obligingly communicated the following copy of the
coat of arms of the Dunstan family.

"Azure, on a chevron gules between three harps, a horse-shoe supported
by two pairs of pincers, proper. _Crest_--An arm embowed, couped
at the shoulder, the hand grasping a hammer, all proper.

[Illustration: SAREUD HYM RIGHTE]


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